Pubdate: Mon, 21 June 1999
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Section: Metro
Copyright: 1999 The Orange County Register


After more than two years of foot-dragging,California might be as close as
it ever has been to implementing Prop.215, the medical marijuana initiative
approved by 56 percent of the voters in 1996.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's task force on medical marijuana has
been meeting regularly for several months and is close to issuing
recommendations that can be translated into legislation. Register editorial
writer Alan Bock,working in Palo Alto last week as a Media Fellow at the
Hoover Institute at Stanford, spoke with Attorney General Lockyer after
Mr.Lockyer delivered a speech in Santa Clara.

The task force's work is "pretty much wrapped" by now, Mr. Lockyer said.
Members of the task force representing various interests are checking with
their constituency groups and haggling over final language. The task force
could present its report this week or next. Santa Clara Democratic Sen.John
Vasconcellos, who heads the Senate Public Safety Committee and co chairs the
attorney general's task force, has already introduced what is called a "slot
bill" designed to contain the task force's recommendations when they are issued.

Attorney General Lockyer (who supported Prop. 215 in 1996 and made it clear
he was still a supporter during his campaign last fall) was candid about the
politics of the issue.

He believes that if law enforcement groups, which were well represented on
the task force proposal, any bill will have little chance of legislative

Law enforcement organizations and lobbies are powerful political players, to
be ignored at one's peril.

Mr.  Lockyer is keenly aware that whatever the task force proposes could
still bump up against federal law, which forbids sale of marijuana.

He says that when he visited Washington earlier in the year (and was almost
threatened with arrest by "Drug Czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey) he talked with
Vice President Gore and Attorney General Reno about authorizing more
research, and he points out that the federal government has recently
loosened the restrictions on medical marijuana research.

But the federal government continues to maintain marijuana on Schedule I,
reserved for drugs with severe abuse potential and safety problems and no
known medical value. It shows little inclination to change.

Official spokesmen are close-mouthed about the possible shape of task force
recommendations, but conversations with others familiar with the
deliberations suggest that they will involve a statewide voluntary patient
identification card, possibly to be issued through the state Department of
Health Services. The Department of Health Services will then be asked to
issue more detailed regulations covering such controversial issues as how
much a certified patient may grow or possess without facing law enforcement

It will be encouraging if medical marijuana, by virtue of being handled by
the Department of Health Services, is officially viewed as a health issue
rather than a law enforcement issue.

But if patients and caregivers have to wait 18 months or more for DHS
regulations before they know where they stand, it will constitute a
considerable burden on them - and on law enforcement personnel, most of whom
would like to have a "bright line" to differentiate medical marijuana users
from recreational users.

In practice, the task force recommendations could be overtaken by events.
Several court cases and appeals are now pending that could clarify the law.
Some advocates are openly growing marijuana for medical uses and a few
doctors are beginning research projects designed to bring cannabis-based
medications to market.

Even if it comes a bit late, however, a palatable task force report will be
a welcome step forward as an indication that California's state government
has decided to try to implement Prop. 215 - even if imperfectly - rather
than to resist it. 

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